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The Kids Are Alright: Expect The Unexpected When Planning Family Vacations
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Having young children — say between ages 5 and 12 — doesn’t mean you have to forgo fun vacations. But you do have to prepare a little more and perhaps adjust your expectations of what you’ll be able to do while you’re away.

Still, a few simple tips should make your trip fun and enjoyable for you and your spouse as well as the children. Who knows? You all might learn something while you’re having fun. Try the following ideas:

If you’re driving:

  • Adjust your schedule. By adjust, we mean throw it out. Don’t try to be the fastest car on the road. Because you won’t be. Children need to stop. Often. Don’t fight it; it’s just going to make you – and them – crankier. Will it really matter if you get to your destination 10 minutes earlier.
  • Pack some snacks. Mommy’s Mystery Bag of Snacks will always play well on a trip – even if it’s just stocked with dollar-store treats. The kids can’t wait to see what’s next from the bag. Plus you’ll save money if you don’t have to buy food and drink every time you stop for gasoline or to take a bathroom break.
  • Ask for buy-in from the kids. Let them pick toys, books, movies and music that they want to entertain themselves. Remember, children love repetition. Don’t worry if they pick a movie they’ve seen a dozen times.
  • Plan family activities. Whether you sing, tell stories about things you and spouse did as children or play games such as finding license plates from as many states as possible, you can keep the kids engaged – and not complaining.
  • Be realistic. Don’t try to travel too far in one day. Kids have a limited tolerance for time in the car, and you’ll have a limited tolerance for kids in the car. Embrace it.

If you’re flying

  • Warn your kids about how things will proceed. Let them know about lines, x-ray machines and taking off belts and shoes. Otherwise, kids could be scared by what’s happening – explaining that security workers are worried about terrorists won’t exactly calm children down, either.
  • If you can book your seats online, go for the front row of economy class. The kids will have a bit more legroom, and they’ll likely be near a bathroom. You’ll also be a bit more isolated from other passengers if the children get grumpy.
  • Prepare for delays. A new book can help children pass the time at the gate or on the plane.

If you’re on a cruise

  • Check out the children’s activities. Most cruise lines have a kid’s club – sort of a day care – featuring activities for children. Make sure the activities are age-appropriate, of course. But allowing your children to make friends with other kids on the cruise can help immensely. Plus you might find another couple that would keep your children for a night while you explore more adult choices on the ship in exchange for your returning the favor.
  • Opt for a designated meal time rather than anytime dining. Children love schedules. Plus, they’ll be more comfortable at the same table with the same people every night.
  • Choose shore excursions the kids will enjoy. Don’t select excursions that will force the children to walk all day. They won’t last, and they’ll tell you – and everyone else – how tired and bored they are.
  • Include your kids in some activities. Many ships have a rock-climbing wall. All have swimming pools. And don’t forget to include some down time. Kids need to relax, too.

One last thing: Because kids can get ill quickly, you’ll want to consider travel insurance so that you can cancel reservations at a moment’s notice and still have protection against losing your money. It’s the same concept you use when you insure your home so that you’ll be protected from covered natural disasters or other problems.


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